Four-Core Power8 Box For Entry IBM i Shops Ships Early
June 16, 2014 Timothy Prickett Morgan
The hardware resellers, software peddlers, and IBM i shops that have modest processing needs and generally modest system budgets have all been waiting for it. And IBM did not say a word about it when the initial Power8 systems were launched back in April. But, all of us in the IBM i community knew, without a doubt, that Big Blue would have to put out a four-core machine with an IBM i P05 software tier.
The reason is simple: More than 95 percent of the IBM i installed base has workloads that can easily fit into an entry P05 system, and there is very little incentive for such customers to pay the much higher software fees for a Power7+ or Power8 machine in the P10 software tier. IBM and ISVs alike tend to charge a lot more for that P10 tier than they do for the P05 tier, and for the many shops that have third-party software, the jump in the application software bill is extremely painful even if they could justify paying more money for the hardware and IBM i systems software.
There were rumors about said P05-class Power8 entry machine even before the launch, particularly among the reseller community that makes a living selling new iron to a relative handful of customers each quarter. According to the resellers I talked to, the gnashing of teeth was so loud among the IBM i resellers and customer base that the company could not stick to its original plan.
I have been poking around for the past several weeks, trying to figure out what was going on with the four-core, P05 machine and had been planning to write up what I knew about it when the machine was unexpectedly launched in announcement letter 114-094 on June 10. There was no heads up from IBM’s press relations people, who are very good about giving us hacks fair warning when new machines are coming, so I have a feeling this was a last-minute decision timed to coincide, more or less, with the availability of the original five Power8 systems announced back in April.
What I learned from partners familiar with IBM’s original plan for the baby Power S814 machine with the P05 tier is that Big Blue made no formal commitment to launch such a machine back in April and commanded resellers to not talk to customers about what they were told. And that the plan was to gear down a six-core machine using 3.02 GHz cores to a four-core model that would appeal specifically to the IBM i P05 crowd. IBM said it would crimp the main memory capacity on the machine, as it did for the Power7 and Power7+ four-core entry machines, and would also support a limited variety of disk and flash drives as well as a limited number of storage devices. Officially, IBM was tentatively committing to put out this baby Power8 box sometime in the second half, and then it focused that down to sometime in the third quarter. IBM was very clear in sharing this information that this plan was subject to change or cancellation without notice.
Thankfully for IBM i shops, it was the former and not the latter. As for me, I was going to start complaining that IBM should have already done this, described what it might do, and ply the community for more rumors. Best I could figure, I could have gotten three or four stories out of that. This would have made my job more interesting, of course, particularly during a third quarter when the news will be pretty thin. So I guess I will have to make trouble elsewhere now. Now might be a good time to come up with some more Power Systems and IBM i news, Big Blue. Just sayin’ . . . .
The four-core Power S814 can run AIX, Linux, or IBM i. The processor card in the box, which costs $1,940, is feature EPXK in the IBM catalog, and the core activation features, which cost $360 a pop, are feature EPYK. All four cores must be activated, so the raw processing capacity of the machine will cost you $3,380 at list price. Full system configuration prices were not available at press time. On configurations where the core activations are free, such as with IBM i Solution Edition machines, the feature code is EPZK. The machine can be used as a Capacity BackUp machine and paired with Power7, Power7+, or Power8 machines.
The four-core Power S814 is capped at 64 GB of maximum main memory and can only use the feature EM8B 16 GB memory cards; there are four in the system. This is the same memory cap on the Power7+ version of the four-core machine. The four-core machine also supports a maximum of eight drives, which can be a mix of disk or SSD drives. You cannot link to SAS drives in external EXP24S enclosures, but you can link out to storage area networks for storage capacity. Here are the drives supported in the machine and their availability:
The entry P05 Power8 box has seven PCI-Express 3.0 peripheral slots, and one of them is used by a four-port Gigabit Ethernet adapter card.
IBM has not provided performance ratings on the four-core Power S814 machine, but it gave us the data to do a little math in this here table:
Assuming the relative performance difference between a four-core and six-core Power8 machine is the same as with a Power7+ machine, then simple algebra suggests the Power S814 with all four cores running at 3.02 GHz will provide around 39,800 units of performance on IBM’s Commercial Performance Workload benchmark test, which is a 40 percent increase in performance. Some of that performance, as you learned a few weeks ago, is due to the increased threading on the processor, some is due to more cache and other improvements in the Power8 core. Yes, I know that it doesn’t make intuitive sense that slower cores should have such a big speed bump. But that is precisely what happened in the jump from Power6 to Power7, so this is the way IBM likes to roll.
The four-core Power S814 machine will be available on June 24. I am trying to get formal system pricing and performance figures so I can do proper comparisons for you. Stay tuned.